Wed, Mar 22, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Avoiding the throng in Taroko park

The Tupido Tribe Trail is a cultural gem that reveals the Taroko tribe's past glory


The Tienhsiang Catholic church is one of the many sights that can be found along the Tupido Tribe Trail.


As the warmth of spring has forced buds into blossoms and chirping insects out of the ground, the bustle of urban life seems out of tune with the season: Maybe a fresh dip into nature is what's needed. If that's what you have in mind, a trip to one of Taiwan's favorite tourist destinations would be a memorable weekend getaway.

Anyone who has been sightseeing in Taiwan has probably taken in the sights of the most-visited attractions at Taroko National Park such as Yantzukou (燕子口) and Wenshan hot spring (文山溫泉) or taken home a few megabytes of photos of the natural wonders along the Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail (九曲洞步道), Baiyang Trail (白楊步道) or Shakadang Walkway (砂卡礑步道). But the lesser-known Tupido Tribe Trail (塔比多部落步道) in Tienhsiang (天祥), which reveals the history of the Taroko tribe (太魯閣族), is equally enchanting and is worth returning to Taroko to see.

Originally part of the Atayal tribe (泰雅族), the Taroko aboriginal groups' ancestors began their long journey to the east of the island about 300 years ago. Prompted to relocate due to the scarcity of hunting grounds in the west, they crossed the Central Mountain Range (中央山脈) and settled in the mountainous areas of Hualien. According to Simmone Kao (高曉慧), the executive secretary of the Grand Formosa Taroko (天祥晶華), though the Taroko groups share similar cultural customs with the Atayal, they developed their own distinctive language and culture as the groups lived in isolation from each other for hundreds of years.

The Tupido Tribe Trail was built by the Batto Bulego family of Taroko some 120 years ago, and now only parts of its ruins remain on the Tianhsyang mesa (天祥台地). Four generations of the family resided there until the Japanese army massacred the tribe and banished the survivors in 1914. The descendents of the high mountain warriors are now scattered throughout Chungte (崇德), Hsincheng (新城) and Liyutan Reservoir (鯉魚潭) in Hualien County.

With this historical backdrop in mind, we began the two-hour hike setting off from the Tienhsiang tourist center near the Grand Formosa Taroko. Halfway through the historical trail, a monolith which overlooks Tienhsiang can be seen. It was the Tupido tribe's natural defense post and was garrisoned by young warriors.

When hiking up to the mesa, visitors will find the way lined with verdant bamboo.

Tupido is an Aboriginal term which refers to the native Formosa palm, which was historically abundant across mountain forests islandwide but has since become scarce. According to the guide from the Grand Formosa Taroko (天祥晶華) who went by the name Da Niu (大牛), the historical remains are divided into several zones that include family houses, farming areas and storage rooms. Each of the areas has historical information posted in Mandarin.

What the signs don't tell you is that you shouldn't enter the houses made of mud and brick to get a feel for the past. "The reason is that people in Taroko practiced indoor burial. So if you stand in the ruins, you are actually standing on top of the skeletons of their ancestors, which is not a good way to show your respect," Da Niu said.

At the center of the ruins lies another monolith, to the right of which lived the tribe's chieftain. "Taroko aborigines were headhunters. After a successful hunt, they would place the heads of their enemies at the chieftain's house and prepare a feast at the monolith ... Betel nuts were placed in the mouths of the severed heads so the dead wouldn't starve and their family wouldn't seek revenge," Da Niu explained.

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